Island – Hákarl und heiße Quellen

Today was our last day in Iceland. Our only firm plan for the day was an evening spa retreat at the famous Blue Lagoon. Faced with bad weather, we went to check out a few museums and sites we had skipped over on our first day in Reykjavik.

We began our morning with a trip to the Saga Museum, a retelling of Icelandic folklore as an introduction to the history and background of Iceland’s settlement and early history. While the museum was perhaps a little cheesy, the narrative was a neat way to see the history and get a feel for early Icelandic culture. Tales of Vikings, religious wars, plague, battles and exploration dominated the sagas we heard. It’s strange to contrast the stereotypical modern Europe with its past; people today think of Europeans as being liberal, tolerant, and modern whereas the sagas depicted a warring, harsh people well-versed in warfare, doing things like burning suspected witches, taking Celtic maids as slaves,and regularly engaging in power struggles. Of course, the Sagas we heard are stories and legends and are not to be taken at face-value, but their retelling and staying power say something about the value system at the times they depict nonetheless. It is not hard to imagine that the early settlement of Iceland would have been dark and dangerous.

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Figurines at the Saga Museum

After the museum we returned to Hallgmskirkja (we had been unable to go inside / up the tower on our prior visit). The church is Lutheran, and very plain on the inside with pristine whitewashed walls and ceiling. There’s a large pipe organ above the entrance with some interesting looking woodwork. However my favorite part of the structure is still the basalt column decorations which hearken to Iceland’s volcanic nature. We were able to take a lift to the top of the tower and see the city from above, although we didn’t stay long with whipping wind and rain.

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The church organ
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Reykjavik from above

We then went to a nearby restaurant called Cafe Loki, which had neat Norse Mythology as a theme for decoration and served Icelandic fare. We both ordered a combo with meatsoup (very tasty) and tried their rye bread ice cream, which was surprisingly good as well. Tyke, good to his word, ordered the Icelandic fermented shark, Hákarl. The smell was vile and I knew that his *failed* attempt to cut the small cube with a knife was a bad sign. Nevertheless, he tried a bite and subsequently spit it out. I won’t fault him – I wasn’t even willing to try it. It smelled like rotten fish soaked in cat pee, but stronger. Tyke described it as “malicious”. We tried the local liquor, Brennivin, and didn’t particularly care for it either.

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Hakarl and Brennivin. No one said Iceland was famous for its food.

After lunch we didn’t have much else we wanted to see in town, so we tried to find some local hiking spots nearby. At a park I sank through some thin ice and got my boot wet, and we couldn’t even find the second location we had picked out based on a website listing. Satisfied with the outdoors given the weather, we thought it’d  be fun to do a bit of people watching in some stores away from the touristy areas. We went to a local supermarket called “Bonus” and a store similar to an Ikea called “Ilva”. It was fun trying to buy things when people assumed we spoke Icelandic since we were away from the popular area. After some time in the store we left for our night at the Blue Lagoon spa.

The Blue Lagoon was wonderfully relaxing. We soaked in the geothermal spring for over 2 hours, tried a few facemasks, and did some more people watching. The spa was a great way to end our time in Iceland – we punctuated our outdoor exploration in the cold and wet weather by soaking in Iceland’s natural hot springs.

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Thoroughly pleased with our time in Iceland, we returned for one last night to our lodging to pack and get ready for our flight to Madrid the next day.

Best wishes and safe travels everyone,

– Ben

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